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North America » Mexico » Quintana Roo » Bacalar
February 15th 2013
Published: December 7th 2016
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San Cristobal de las Casas to Bacalar, Mexico: A Journey through the Yucatan Jan-Feb, 2013

San Cristobal de las Casas, Palenque, Campeche, Merida, Celestun, Progresso, Isla Holbox, Tulum, Bacalar, Mexico

On my way to the Yucatan I stopped in Palenque and Couchsurfed a few nights with a guy who was living just outside the park entrance. I slept on a quite hard massage table in the front room of the second floor open-air loft house. It was a narrow steel table, topped with a reed mat and covered with a blanket. A bizarre “couch” experience, that’s for sure.



In Campeche, a hostel friend and I went to Edzna, a Mayan archeological site, and because we were there early, before the tour groups arrived, we had the place practically to ourselves. We clambered up and down the ruins and took in the majestic views. I enjoyed watching the iguanas splayed out on the rocks, basking in the sunshine.



In Merida I had a roommate who traveled with a handmade hammock. It was because of her I decided to get one myself, not only to save on accommodation costs, but also giving me the opportunity to sleep in the nature (no room needed, just two trees, please). We went hammock material shopping together and found a good quality, strong material, which cost me 75 Pesos (about US $6). We then found a tailor who could sew one up with a top cover for an additional 150 Pesos. I found a fabric store with some light fleece-y material on sale for 20P/meter instead of 50P, the cost for the slightly thicker polar fleece. I knew I would need a blanket of some sort at night, especially that time of year and at higher elevations, since I didn’t travel with a sleeping bag. Buying a piece of fleece cost me a whole lot less than an actual blanket.



In Progresso I met a hunky kite boarder from Sweden in need of a pair of board shorts. He was traveling through Mexico, “catching the waves” whenever possible. Let’s back up a moment to the year 2010:



In June, 2010, I was at a volunteer project in Haiti when I traded a friend my tiger striped lounge pants for his board shorts. It was a perfect trade off and these shorts lasted me years of wear and beach time. However, while traveling in Mexico I lost some weight so the board shorts became too large for me. This Swedish hottie tried them on and…they fit. Perfectly. I stayed at this hostel for over a week, as did the Swede, and I never saw him wear anything else. I was quite glad to pass them on to a new owner who could utilize – and wear - them well.



The Scandinavian dude and I were both planning (separately) to head to Isla Holbox, a tropical island paradise with stunning turquoise water, on the northern coast of the state of Quintana Roo (adjacent to Yucatan). I had done some extensive research on how to reach the mainland ferry terminal without having to pay for bus transport. I was planning to hitch much of the way and from one traveler to another I gladly shared my information. This guy was ecstatic, thanked me profusely, and left the following day. I left one day after him.



On the morning I left for the island, I had to take a series of buses to one small village, where, at that point, I thought it would be a no brainer to hitch a ride to the ferry terminal. Boy was I wrong. As the bus zipped down the coastal road I caught glimpses between the palms and the beachfront resort properties of the deep blue sea. I couldn’t wait to reach the island.

It was still mid morning when I was dropped in a sleepy town (more like it was completely asleep!), with only a few houses to its name. It was the end of the line for the bus and although I was told there would be a colectivo, there wasn’t even a local vehicle – or local person – to be seen. I walked on, what else could I do. Other than a few nondescript houses, there was not a thing in this little village, just a small center square, which doubled as a basketball court. I decided not to hang about, and to just walk forward, preparing to stick my thumb out should a car appear. I was on the coastal road; no doubt someone would pass. Or would they?

I got about 3/4 of a kilometer down the lonely quiet road when I reached a bridge over a waterway. I chatted up a nearby fisherman from the town who basically told me it would be impossible for me to hitch by taking this road because no cars traveled that way. Indeed, no cars came.

The fisherman, Jose, told me in English he had met “a big foreign guy” the day before on that same bridge. “Yeah, I know him, he’s my friend,” I replied, and we got a chuckle out of the mishap (now, times two). Of course, my poor friend was only there because of my misdirected information. The fisherman described him as “another foreigner with lots and lots of stuff.” Indeed, he had been carrying his kite board along with whatever else he had to travel with.

Jose proceeded to tell me he had a friend who gave the Swedish guy a ride to a nearby town where he would then be able to catch a bus to another town where he would need to take a second bus to the ferry terminal for Holbox. The fisherman then offered to give me a lift back to the center of this town, where the earlier bus had dropped me off, which seemed the best solution, as there was a turnoff to a nearby town where I would then be able to catch onward transport.

It wasn’t long before a pickup came by. Thankfully my fisherman friend stopped the vehicle and asked if they were going to this nearby town and if they wouldn’t mind taking my pack and me for no charge. They could do that, they assured me. I thanked my new friend and after throwing my pack in the rusted-out bed, clambered into the cab of the rattletrap. Theirs was only the third vehicle to have passed in the hour I had been waiting; the other two, as it were, were heading in the opposite direction.

Only because my new fisherman friend had talked with them in Spanish (and I trusted his judgement) did I get in the cab of their truck. They were a bit scruffy-looking but, it turned out, nice enough. Speeding down the bumpy backroads, they asked all sorts of inquisitive questions, all in Spanish of course.



We were soon in the small town where I was to catch the first transport. The driver zipped up to a waiting – but just then leaving - bus heading to another town where I would then need to catch yet another bus. Whew, what timing! The driver of
ChoppinessChoppinessChoppiness

Sadly, the weather wasn't conducive for swimming
the rust bucket grabbed my now well-shaken bag from the back, we quickly shook hands and I scrambled aboard the waiting bus. It left as soon as I got on. I found a seat in the middle next to a man that reeked of alcohol. He seemed too over-eager that I sit next to him, waving me down in a not so subtle fashion as I pushed my way through the isles with my oversized bag, my straps and hanging boots banging people’s shoulders and heads as I walked down the aisle towards the only vacant seat I could see, which happened to be next to this drunkard. The man must have been at least 85 and smelled terribly of alcohol, which must have been seeping through his pores. He rocked back and forth in his seat, staring incessantly in my direction. I soon moved and got a window seat on the opposite side of the bus.



As it was, my bus arrived just as the second one was leaving. I hurried off one and hopped onto the next as it was pulling out of the terminal, sinking into the front seat behind the driver. I was told it would take 2.5 hours so I started a new book, trying hard not to think of my growing hunger pains, or my desperate need for a restroom. At least the seats were comfortable and my window was fairly clean.



We arrived at the ferry pier and within five minutes I was on board the ferry, sitting in a seat up on top, relishing the fresh air.



Once on the island, I found my way to my accommodation without any problem and discovered my colorful dorm room was only one block from the beach.



I ambled along the sand until sunset. Admiring the orange twilight skies and the ultra flat, calm waters, I told myself I couldn’t wait to swim the following day. But first, it was dinner time.



I found a food stall on the square with decently priced meals and got two delicious tortas for 25 pesos each. I was happy with my filling 50-peso dinner, knowing that same price would hardly pay for a drink at a restaurant on the island.



I ate slowly and since there were only two plastic tables alongside the food stall, I was soon joined by an older man scarfing down two tacos. In English I asked the man if what he was eating were indeed tacos and how much they cost and in English he replied that he doesn’t speak Spanish. “That was English,” I said, stupefied. “I come from Sweden,” was all he said, not looking at me and seemingly more interested in devouring his tacos than conversation with his tablemate.



I woke at 5 to the pitter-patter of rain, surprised I could hear it over the drone of the industrial strength super-fan in my room.



It turned out, a ‘norte” had come in overnight producing lots of wind and high waves this morning. It was good for the kite surfers, but, sadly, not conducive to swimming in the ocean. It was certainly exciting to be on the island during this “storm.” Thankfully it was not cold, just windy, really windy.



In the afternoon, as I was braving the winds and walking along the beach, I looked up and spotted a familiar pair of board shorts coming my way. The owner of said shorts was
Tulum, an overviewTulum, an overviewTulum, an overview

The key is to get there early to get peopleless shots
carrying a kite board and the moment he looked up and saw me a broad grin crossed his face. Granted, the island is small, but what were the chances of me running conveniently into the big Swede? Luckily I spotted him because I wanted the chance to apologize about the misinformation on hitching to the island. As it turned out he took the exact route I did and, like me, also barely caught onward transports. We sat down and talked in the shade for quite a while. Then it started to rain. Again.



Third day on the island was dark and cloudy, the waves kicking into the shore and the colorful sails of the courageous kite boarders in full view. But it really was just too miserable to be outside. A few island-goers braved the wind and cool weather to walk along the shoreline but in general, not too many people were out and about.



On the fourth day on the island, I headed out to the beach for some much-needed hammock time, despite the much-cooler weather and wind whipping up the sand. Unfortunately, it was too cold to swim and the currents had picked up again. The sea was alive and the sky looked angry.



The only good thing that came out of that stormy day was a lovely orange sunset.



On the morning I had to leave, I woke to such stillness; nary a branch was fluttering. The weather looked promising, as if the day was going to be perfect island weather, sadly something I never experienced during my stay on Holbox. Next time.



Next stop: Tulum.



I was up and out the hostel door early for a brisk morning walk to the entrance of Tulum, the archeological ruins one is not supposed to miss when in the Yucatan Peninsula. I found myself first in line for entry tickets and once inside, ended up with photos of the ruins and the beach area with nary a body in the way. The throng of people usually start to arrive at 10, I had been told, but I started seeing large groups as early as 9. The lawns were manicured, the grounds were nicely cared for but the ruins weren’t as exciting as I was hoping. It’s all about the beach and the amazing color of the water that draw people in and I can most certainly see why. I was so blown away by the light turquoise water; so magnificent, so tempting. I just had to get in.



I wandered around, captivated by all the sunning iguanas on the ruins but soon found myself drawn towards that amazing water. I was down on the beach before 9:30, one of the only foreigners on the golden shore at that hour. I put my sarong on the sand next to a tanning body, a fellow solo female traveler who turned out to be super cool. Four hours we chatted and never ran out of things to talk or laugh about. She was a hoot!



After Tulum, I spent five nights in the small town of Bacalar, home of the fresh water lagoon, known as the lake of seven colors. I believe the entire lake has a white sandy bottom, which makes for such exquisite colors on the surface.



I found a place to stay a block from the town square where I was able to string my new hammock between two trees in the backyard of a guesthouse for a fraction of the room rates in town.



The days were glorious, but the nights brought a slight chill to the air. I stayed toasty, however, wrapped under my fleece blanket, enclosed in my hammock.



Six weeks after finding nearly $400 in equivalent Mexican Pesos, the only money I vowed to spend during my final weeks in the Yucatan Peninsula, I left the country with only a 5 Peso coin in my pocket. About 40 cents.



A few days after I started a volunteer project in Belize, a place that also rented out small cabanas to travelers, I was chatting with the owner in the back yard. All of a sudden a familiar pair of shorts came from around the corner. “Hey, those are my shorts!” I exclaimed, much to the bewilderment of the person with whom I had been speaking. “Huh?” she asked, amused, yet confused. The Swedish kite boarder had appeared, and of all places, he had made a reservation to stay there. He would be staying for a few days in not only the same accommodation on the same island in the same country where I was currently residing, but the same cabana dorm as me. It had been a few weeks since I last saw him on Holbox and, at that time, we had never mentioned where we were headed after the island.



The world is just too small. Even for a simple pair of board shorts.


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